Would you eat a bug? What if it’s part of a Chocolate Chirp Cookie? Kathleen and James Rolin are betting the farm — the Cowboy Cricket Farm— that you and thousands of other Americans will.

Kathleen first got the idea while attending the “Bug Buffet,” an annual event at Montana State University, where she was studying nutrition. At the event, Kathleen noticed how enthusiastic attendees were about incorporating bugs into their diet.

“People were excited to eat insects for the first time and it really got people to stop and think about their food,” Kathleen says. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Before getting started, Kathleen needed to convince her husband James (who she met when they were both in the Coast Guard) that starting a cricket farm was a good idea. James was initially reluctant, but after doing his own research (to find reasons not to start a cricket farm), he saw the idea’s merits, and Cowboy Crickets, Montana’s first cricket farm, was born.

The Path to Success 

The couple asked for letters of intent from companies that use crickets in their products —and quickly received more requests for crickets than they could accommodate.

Cowboy Cricket Farms sells 100% Acheta domesticus (common house crickets), which are locally farmed in Montana. Crickets, according to the company, “contain high protein, iron and amino acids in a very small package. They provide a sustainable alternative to many other animal products (like beef and chicken) at a fraction of the environmental cost, and in a way that can be grown to benefit the expanding population of our planet.”

How SCORE Helped

Kathleen found SCORE mentor Rick Sanders from a Google search looking for business resources. Sanders helped Kathleen and James with their business plan and encouraged them to apply for grants, which they had thought were out of their reach. In fact, Kathleen and James ended up receiving every grant that they applied for.

Sanders also gave Kathleen and James ideas for getting press, which resulted in media coverage in The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Great Falls Tribune, the Montana Standard, NBC Montana and other outlets.

Sanders, Kathleen says, taught them the value of time. “We used to give free tours to the public, but Rick explained how time is money and suggested we start charging a small fee. It’s proven to be a great source of revenue. We now do educational tours [as well] to school groups and even [give] lectures at the university. These tours have helped us feel more confident about what we are trying to do and the financial stability that it can create for our family.”

Kathleen says, “We trust Rick like he were a founder in the company. He’s been an important part of how we have shaped the business. He gives us real world experiences and can look at problems from a whole different mindset and view than us.”

Sanders gives Kathleen and James a lot of credit too. He says, “I’ve never worked with a client who has been so prepared.”  

Cowboy Cricket Farms Today

After just a year in business, Cowboy Cricket Farms received more than $100,000 in grants and awards, helping them exceed their first-year financial goals. In 2018, they opened an IPO set at $750,000, after getting a small business exemption from Montana’s state auditor. Cowboy Cricket farms is also the 2018 SCORE Award winner for Outstanding Military-Owned Small Business, presented by Nav. 

While Cowboy Cricket Farms was Montana’s first edible insect farm, it’s no longer the only one. Kathleen explains, “We have created a partner farmer program in which people farm crickets using our proprietary feed and processes. We purchase the adult crickets from them and process them in our commercial kitchen. The crickets are dehydrated whole and are either flavored or processed into a powder.”

“We do direct-to-consumer sales with products such as our Chocolate Chirp Cookies and Smokey Jumpers,” she continues, “as well as to other businesses that use our crickets in their products.”

Cowboy Cricket Farms is not just about farming. “We are an emerging tech company,” Kathleen says, “developing automated cricket habitats that will make cricket farming easier and more cost effective. We are also a research company. From state-funded research we are developing the ‘Super Cricket,’ which is an omega-3 enhanced cricket.” 

Paying it Forward

Kathleen has some words of wisdom for aspiring small business owners. She says,

“#1. Conduct market research. Is there a need for your service or product? Don’t jump in before you understand your market.

#2. Use credit cards to grow your business, but never to survive.” 

Bugging Out: Veteran Entrepreneurs Enter Edible Insects Market

My Mentors